Wednesday, January 31, 2018

10 top picks for spring fun in Washington DC

Despite the fact winter is still in full swing in the Washington, D.C. region, spring is not too far off. I was surprised to find after the recent (albeit brief!) warm spell we recently had resulted in early spring flowers starting to show themselves. 

It got me thinking that spring really is around the corner. It is a wonderful time of year in the nation’s capital region with many interesting and fun things to do as the colder temperatures shift to (often much!) warmer ones.

10 great things to do during the spring in Washington D.C.


1. See the cherry blossoms

Hands down, the cherry blossoms are a top draw in Washington D.C. Not surprisingly, this one probably makes every list. Every year big crowds, including locals and visitors alike, head down to the Tidal Basin to marvel at the sea of beautiful pinks and whites. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, and the numerous events in the city coinciding with it, also makes for a fun time.




2. Visit National Harbor

A steadily growing area, the National Harbor is home to the relatively new MGM facility and the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, along with several shops, eateries and other fun things to see and do. Take a ride on the Capital Wheel or stroll along the Potomac River while you're there!


3. Attend a baseball Game

As spring kicks into full gear, this means it’s time for baseball! Come see the home team play at Nationals Park, a first-rate stadium. The last few years have proved to be exciting seasons. Along with the Nationals, its Class A Minor League affiliate, the Potomac Nationals (PNats) is another great option. Their ballpark is located just south of the District in Woodbridge, Va.


4. See a parade

Washington D.C. has several parades throughout the year, however, spring brings the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Cherry Blossom parade and the Memorial Day parade. Many of the city’s suburbs also host parades. 


5. Celebrate Earth Day

To celebrate Earth Day, numerous events take place in the D.C. area (here is a list from 2017). Additionally, there is Springfest Fairfax County which is a fun, family-friendly event. 



6. Take a river ride

Being the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers run through the D.C. region, this means there are numerous ways to enjoy these beautiful rivers through a scenic cruise or by renting a paddle boat, kayak or canoe.


7. Visit a historic property

Being many of America’s early settlers landed on the east coast, it’s no surprise many of the people who arrived called what is now known as the capital region home. Many of the homes built in the 18th century still exist, have been meticulously preserved by their caretakers and are also open to the public. 


Springtime is a wonderful time of year to visit because many of the grand homes in the area are located in such picturesque areas. Many properties also have restored gardens which are already in bloom and breathtakingly beautiful this time of year.

8. Take a moonlight tour

The memorials and monuments are beautiful anytime, however, night time is special, especially during the spring evenings. Hop a bus tour and see these sights under the moonlight. I've splurged and done this a couple of times. It's an evening to remember. If you don't want to take the trolley ride, you can self-guide and walk around the National Mall. We do this frequently throughout the year. 


9. Take a hike

Literally! There are several amazing places located in D.C. or within a 90-minute drive of the District. Check out Great Falls, Prince William Forest Park, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Rock Creek Park, Harper’s Ferry, and of course, Shenandoah National Park and it’s beautiful Skyline Drive that’ll get you to some terrific hiking spots.

Great Falls (Virginia - there is also a park on the Maryland side - I've not been there - yet)


10. Visit the District Wharf

Making its debut in Oct. 2107, the District Wharf appears to be a great place to hang out in the spring. Admittedly, I haven't been there yet but thought it a good one to add to the list. With water activities, music, food, entertainment and other specially scheduled events, there seems to be a lot to do and during the region’s spring season, it’s a great time to be outdoors.


These are just a handful of ideas of things to do in the spring in the capital region. Other events to look for include:

March
  • ShamrockFest  
  • Annapolis Film Festival 
  • Frying Pan Farm Park (springtime means babies on the farm!)
  • Sugarloaf Craft Festival (varies by month and location)

April

  • Holland in Haymarket (time frame depends on when the tulips bloom, usually sometime in April but can be early March) 
  • Historic Garden Week (April, Virginia) 


May
  • Passport DC  
  • DC Bike Ride 
  • Annual Flower Mart 
  • Dragonboat Festival (May but rain date has been in June)

June

Most people, while in the area, also visit D.C.’s National Mall and explore the memorials and monuments. What visit would be complete without them?



Monday, January 22, 2018

11 fun facts about the National Harbor

In June 2014 I was sitting in Terminal A at Reagan International Airport waiting for a late night flight. I was looking out the window and noticed a huge lit up Ferris wheel shining brightly across the Potomac River. Up until that point, I had no idea it was even there. Later, I learned the wheel had made its debut just a month before.



I’d heard development was going on over in that corner of Maryland but didn’t know much about it as I’d been off exploring downtown D.C. and different areas of Virginia and points west. Another thing I didn’t realize was that the National Harbor had opened way back in April 2008. Since that time this area has grown by leaps and bounds and continues to draw in visitors and locals alike. Here are some other things you might not know about the National Harbor.
 

11 fun facts about the National Harbor


1. The land that now comprises the National Harbor was once 350 acres of undeveloped waterfront land. The National Harbor area “commands a mile and a quarter of the Potomac”. It is located in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

2. National Harbor was developed by Milton Peterson’s Peterson Companies. While construction began in 2007, the project was originally envisioned in the late 1990s. To date, expansion continues. 




3. The main thoroughfare at National Harbor is known as the “American Way”. It is a 3,000-foot promenade down the center of the area and is described as being designed to serve as a “homage to the American experience.” 




4. By 2017, National Harbor had almost 4,000 residents and 7,000 workers at 30 restaurants. Several hotels, including Marriott’s Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, and more than 150 retail stores also fall within its landscape.


5. The Capital Wheel rises 180 feet above the beautiful Potomac River and has a 171’ 2 9/16” diameter. It holds 336 passengers in 42 climate-controlled gondolas with each gondola holding 8 people. It weighs a whopping 320 tons without the base. From the wheel, riders can see the nation’s capital city, along with the Washington Monument, National Cathedral, Alexandria and Prince George’s County. To ride the wheel, you can pay a one-time fee or buy a daily pass.

6. National Harbor has a carousel, some play areas, riverfront seating and a waterfront walkway to stroll along.



7. In 2016 MGM opened a $1.4 billion integrated casino resort complex at National Harbor. It sits on 23 acres and has quickly become a popular venue for gambling, entertainment, dining and retail. It also has a 24-story hotel, gaming floor with 125,000 square feet and a 3,000-seat theatre. 


8. There is a five-piece cast iron sculpture near the Potomac shore. Made by J. Seward Johnson Jr., it was made more than 35 years ago and used to live over near the Jefferson Memorial. It was moved to National Harbor in 2008. 



9. An 18 by 32 foot outdoor Jumbotron can be found at National Harbor where people watch games and view other types of popular programming.

10. Tanger Outlets, like many other popular vacation destinations, has found a home at National Harbor too.

11. More than 11 million people visit National Harbor each year.

National Harbor is a neat place to visit. I finally did get over there in 2016 when we went to see the annual ICE! Exhibit over at Gaylord. It a chilly sort of day when we visited and I’d love to get back over there in the warmer weather and have some fun exploring.  

One of the “to do” things on my checklist is to ride the water taxi between National Harbor and either Georgetown or Alexandria. I’m thinking since I live in Virginia to maybe start our trip out from Old Town Alexandria, which is also a fab place to visit.

Thank you for visiting. I hope you've enjoyed these fun facts! My blog contains facts about many other landmarks in the D.C. area. You can find these by using the "search" feature to the right of this blog. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Georgian-style mansions open to the public in the DC area

Georgian-style homes date back to America’s beginnings. Symmetry is the basis of Georgian-style homes, along with classic proportions and decorative elements. As the wealthy arrived, many of them built grand homes in this style through the Revolutionary War period as was common during the eras of King George I, II and III. 

Over time, the popularity of this style waned over time in favor of other styles of grand homes, however, there are still some modern builds of Georgian architecture too. In the Washington D.C. area, there are several excellent examples of the beautiful Georgian architecture, many which are open to the public to see.



Gunston Hall


One of the finest examples of Georgian architecture is right here in Northern Virginia at Gunston Hall, about 20 miles south of the District off of Route 1 (Richmond Highway). George Mason, one of America's Founding Fathers, began construction of his home in 1755 and build was completed in 1759.





The caretakers of this home keep it in remarkable condition inside and out. Tours are daily, excepting Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. I've taken this tour numerous times and always learn something new either about the build, George Mason the man or some other interesting tidbit about that era. Gunston Hall is located at 10709 Gunston Rd, Lorton, Va. 

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens


The grand home of Marjorie Merriweather Post is another fine example of Georgian architecture that is open to the public to enjoy. Originally built in the 1930s, Mrs. Post purchased the home in 1955 and lived there roughly 20 years, bringing her amazing art collection and improving on the home with lavish embellishments. 

Image credit: By Jllm06 - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7411525


Prior to her death, Mrs. Post decided she wanted to share her home and art collection with future generations. The estate opened to the public in 1977 and continues to offer ongoing tours. Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens is located just a few miles from downtown D.C. at 4155 Linnean Avenue, NW Washington, DC.


Woodlawn



Woodlawn, just a hop, skip and a jump, from George Washington’s Mount Vernon, was the home of Lawrence Lewis (Washington’s nephew) and Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis (Martha Washington’s granddaughter). Washington had given the newlyweds some of the land from his own Mount Vernon property in 1799 for them to build their own home. 


The home is not a true Georgian, but it does have Georgian elements blended with the popular Federal style which was emerging in that era. Open seasonally, visitors can tour the home and property on Fridays through Mondays from April through fall (in 2017 it closed on Dec. 12). Woodlawn is located at 9000 Richmond Highway, Alexandria, Va. 

Chatham Manor


Chatham Manor is a bit off the beaten path from the District as it is located about an hour south of the District near Fredericksburg (however, it makes for a great day or weekend trip as there is much to do in the area). Chatham Manor is an excellent example of Georgian architecture that remains from the 18th century. Built between 1768 and 1771 by William Fitzhugh, the home was positioned to overlook the Rappahannock River. 


Over the centuries the property saw many important people pass through its doors; it also played a pivotal role in the Civil War serving as a hospital. Today, the property is run by the National Park Service and is open to the public. This tour is a little different than other tours since it’s not furnished or set up to interpret any one resident’s life but there are interesting exhibits located throughout the lower floor’s rooms; the grounds and gardens are also nice to tour. Chatham is located at 120 Chatham Ln, Fredericksburg, Va.

The Maples


The Maples, also known as The Friendship House or Duncanson House, is found in the heart of D.C. on D Street SE and stands as the oldest building in Capitol Hill. This house is not open to the public as it appears to have been converted to private residences but I wanted to include this one for those interested in the architecture who may want to take a look. Constructed in 1795-96 by William Mayne Duncanson, a local merchant, it was once a grand home in the earliest days of the city. Since its original build, the home has undergone many renovations and additions, and it appears much effort has been put into restoring the home to its 18th-century appearance (I haven’t seen this one).

If you head north to Annapolis, Maryland, you’ll also find several fine examples of Georgian architecture including the Hammond-Harwood House, William Paca House and the Brice House (all my list!), to name a few.

If you love architecture and history (most of these homes were built by notable residents who were Founding Fathers, governors, prosperous merchants or other prominent citizens), the fine Georgian examples in the greater D.C. area are excellent. I’m always amazed at the effort of preservation that takes place in this region.